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Faith, Herbs or Placebo?

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In desperation, a family with strong ‘old world’ roots brought to my office their beloved father, a humble Italian man who was diagnosed at Stanford hospital with late stage pancreatic cancer. He only spoke Italian and thus required one of his relatives to be present with the doctors and subsequently with me over the course of the following year of my weekly treatments with him. Needless to say, this was an inconvenience, but perhaps a small blessing in disguise — because it forced him to rely more on his faith rather than on intellect. 

He was given three months to live The Stanford doctors strongly recommended a bile duct resection as standard palliative care protocol for lessening pain.

After hearing about the operation the Stanford doctors wanted to perform on him, he politely responded in broken English, “Thank you but no thank you.” The next day his family, many of whom were former clients, brought him to me saying, "Our father was examined by several doctors at Stanford and was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer with only three months to live. Is there anything you can do perhaps to at least make him more comfortable?” Adhering to the Traditional Chinese Medicine ideal of “Treat what you see,” -- and simplistically speaking, I could not see pancreatic cancer, furthermore realizing my limitations especially trying to cure pancreatic cancer -- I acceded, saying “OK let’s just forget that he has cancer.” Which, by the way, I proceeded to do over the subsequent two or three weeks when he’d come in for acupuncture treatments, dietary and herbal protocols.

Weekly treatments went on for a little more than a year. Initially I recommended a modest adjustment to his diet. The most challenging was to have him refrain from all alcoholic beverages. Following an old world tradition and favorite pastime for this humble man, each year he would carefully pick his own grapes from various farms and put up barrels of fine home made wine. From the mash, he distilled super high alcohol grappa. He was not a heavy drinker by any means, but the occasional glass of wine was part of the ‘good life’ for this native from a small village in Trieste.

I felt sorry for telling him that he couldn’t drink it any more. However he had implicit trust in me and followed all that I recommended perfectly. This didn’t stop him, however, from his continuing to make it. Instead of drinking it himself, he distributed his wine and grappa to all his family, friends and to me. I used much of the grappa for making herbal tinctures.

Based on a constitutional assessment, I went on the theory that he had a Liver imbalance and recommended my own Bupleurum Liver Cleanse pills and a tea of dandelion, burdock root, red clover, pau d’ arco, Oregon grape root — one cup three times a day. All of these herbs have anti-cancer properties but having once prescribed it and seeing that it was helping him with some minor discomfort he mentioned around the area of his liver, I continued to give him virtually the same tea with small exceptions for the entire year.

Because of the language barrier, our interactions were often awkward and stiff and required translation usually by his eldest son, who accompanied him.

Several times I was taken aback when he physically grabbed my arm before needling him and stared into my eyes saying “I troost you, I belieeve in you!” Seeing that no matter what minor discomfort he might have had was gone, again not remembering his diagnosed cancer, I suggested perhaps his visits could be spaced bi-weekly and eventually monthly. 

Not reminding me of his cancer, he and his family insisted on continuing to come weekly. I feel that regular acupuncture treatment is always beneficial and since they were paying my full fee, I agreed. Then something happened that has never happened to me before or since. He would come with envelopes stuffed with $100 bills. At first I refused, but he absolutely insisted and would sometimes hide it somewhere for me to find in the treatment room after he left. 

I told his son who was in the adjoining room about this and said I felt this was a gesture by a kind, simple man, but I didn’t feel right about taking the money and I offered the envelope with cash to him. He insisted and said that the entire family wanted me to keep the money and so I did. 

I eventually understood that this man saw me in the role reminiscent of the traditional village healer of his youth. Like Native American healers, the true healer never required a fee for their services but it was expected that people would give fees and gifts according to their means in exchange for healing. Healing in this sense was for mind, body and/or spirit and frequently involved herbs as well as talismans and other shamanistic modalities.

With no more obvious physical complaints, I continued to administer weekly acupuncture ‘tune-up’ treatments along with herbal pills and teas. Perhaps seeing me as some sort of oracle of healing, he tentatively began in hardly intelligible English asking me for help for various dissonances and conflicts through his rather large family. Once again, I was taken aback to discover that he was asking me to give him something he could take back to fix his family concerns and squabbles – and I realized he was asking me to make and give him talismans.

In retrospect, this guy was making me into his very own personal shaman, and even telling me how to do it. The power would come not only from me but more especially from his faith in me and sealed with the cash token gifts he was bestowing on me.

Never having done such a thing before and based on scant knowledge I learned from second- and third-hand sources, I retired to my herbal pharmacy, found a square piece of colored cloth, put a few pinches of herbs in it and tied into a small pouch to serve as a talisman. I blew on it and then went back to the treatment room, removed the needles from him and gave him the talisman, telling him to take it back and bury under a tree at midnight on the next full moon.

With all of this in mind I presented this man with my first talisman, which was to be one of three or four over the course of our time together. The upshot of it was, just as all my herbs and treatment worked, this one worked ‘like a charm’ as well. Each time all the challenging and conflicts in his family according to him would disappear.

Toward the close of the year during one of his regular visits his oldest son and daughter accompanied him saying that the Stanford doctors kept calling their house asking about their father and wanting him to come in. Essentially they wanted to know whether he was dead or not. As to whether they should bring him in or not, they asked my opinion. It was then that they reminded me that he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I eagerly told them, I could see no problem with his returning for a subsequent examination, in fact I was anxious for it to happen. The results, much to my astonishment, was that not a trace of cancer was found in this man’s body. 

He went on to live another 5 years and passed away from some age-related cause — still cancer-free. 

So what was the cause for healing in this case? Herbs? Faith? Placebo? 

Could this be part of the claimed results of some of the famed healers of the past, whose methods could never be demonstrated by anyone other than themselves? I’m talking about Hoxsey, maybe Ann Wigmore, Eli Jones, Gerson therapy, Mesmer, and Rasputin to name only a few.

Were the fees he paid and gifts he gave an outer token of empowerment?

Was there really anything so extraordinarily powerful in my herbal treatment protocol to explain a complete remission of diagnosed pancreatic cancer? In all honesty, I’ve seen and have personally done a lot more for others with cancer and have not achieved that kind of success.

Unless there was some inherent power in the talisman that I dumbly improvised, what was the determining factor for their working, at least according to this man’s estimation?

I could go on with the questions this case raises but it is enough to know that it wasn’t me or anything that I did that created such an apparently miraculous outcome (for which, by the way, the Stanford doctors had no comment).

I do know that I’ve followed Eli Jones, Hoxsey protocols, at one time put large numbers of patients on juices fasts and raw foods and can’t claim anything near the same kind of results these highly charismatic individuals who, consciously or not, used to bring about the successful reception and outcome of their methods of healing.

Even though this was indeed in the category of a remarkable, even miraculous remission of a deadly form of cancer, this individual really had no choice. It was either to be a miracle or death. A responsible healer should be informed and wise enough to know when it may be necessary to refer a client to conventional care. In this case, there was no other option, and remarkably enough it turned out better than expected; maybe when we find ourselves with an unsolvable problem the best choice is to just do what we can.

3 comments

  • Comment Link Allashakti Karma Tuesday, 24 November 2015 22:51 posted by Allashakti Karma

    This article has made me much for confidant and comfortable as a student in the East West Course for Planetary Herbology. William Compton Phd, author of Eastern Psychologies, states "“although interest in meditation, yoga, tai chi chuan, acupuncture and other techniques from the East has grown in the Western world, these techniques have frequently been applied in psychology without actually understanding the cultural assumptions that helped create and sustain these practices in their native cultures. For instance, martial arts have often been taught in the West simply as methods of combat, while the spiritual foundations of the disciplines are not mentioned or taught."
    We must maintain and enter the rich historical and cultural contexts that have created and maintained Chinese Medicine's effectiveness for centuries. "Pretending there is no cancer" is doing just that.
    Heiner Freuhauf, a world-renowed Chinese Medicine practitioner, is particularly frightened by the replacement of Chinese Medicine’s true context with Western scientific and New Age beliefs. In his famous essay TCM in Crisis, he says “Between the lines of this argument resides the warning that the progressive removal of the unique foundations of Chinese medicine is far more than just a philosophical issue. It affects the heart of our medicine itself, namely the nature of the clinical encounter and the quality and the results of therapy. It greatly diminishes, moreover, the unique edge that the traditional science of Chinese medicine has over allopathic medicine and its various offshoots” (introduction). I believe this thinking and feeling obviously applies to all eastern medicines brought West.

  • Comment Link Greg Friday, 21 August 2015 03:05 posted by Greg

    After many years as a medical hypnotist, I am convinced that in many, if not most, cases it is the ritual and the relationship between the patient and the provider that heals.

  • Comment Link Marie Ruiz Tuesday, 16 June 2015 14:43 posted by Marie Ruiz

    Amazing amazing amazing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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